Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Maud Ingersoll Probasco, 1864-1936
By Sara L. Bartlett, independent scholar and author
Officer, New York State Woman Suffrage Association and Co-Founder of the Vivisection Investigation League
Maud Ingersoll Probasco was born November 4, 1864 and died in New York City February 12, 1936. She was the daughter of Robert Green Ingersoll, Civil War Colonel, renowned orator, and free thinker (1833-1899) and Eva Parker Ingersoll (1841-1923). Maud's older sister, Eva Ingersoll, born December 22, 1863, was a feminist and suffragist.
The Ingersoll sisters were born in Illinois, and their father was Attorney General there from 1867 to 1869. The Ingersoll household was large, extremely close, and included Maud's maternal grandmother; her mother's sister and brother-in-law, Sue and Clinton Farrell; Clinton Farrell's daughter; and Susan Sharkey, Maud and Eva's nanny. The household was also home to many different kinds of pets over the years that instilled in the sisters a love of animals, a fervent belief in their protection, and future active participation in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York.
Maud's famous father was a major influence on the family. Although he was the son of a Congregationalist minister, when he met Maud's mother, he was fascinated with her agnostic views and soon became a believer, and it was passed on to Maud and her sister. Outside of his political life, Robert was an orator traveling the country speaking on "Idea of the Rights of Children," "Cruelty to Animals," and "Woman the Equal of Man." In March of 1879, he was a speaker, along with Susan B. Anthony at the Woman Suffrage Convention in Peoria, Illinois.
When the family lived in Cockle Mansion in Peoria, young Maud and her sister learned to read and write by the age of six. They studied music, art, Italian, and French. They both had piano and singing lessons and liked to act out scenes from Shakespeare. In 1875, the family traveled to Europe which added to their extensive education. In their teens, that education broadened as they accompanied their father on some of his speaking tours and even helped him research material for his lectures. As Maud said, "Father had read with us and together we have looked up references, localities, and proofs."
In 1878, the entire extended family moved to Washington, D.C., to a house on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House. Robert became friends with President Garfield and would often cross the street for evening visits. He was also with the president in the aftermath of his shooting.
While in Washington, the family gave "At-Homes" on Saturday or Sunday evenings where as many as 50 guests, including congressmen, foreign ministers, industrial tycoons, musicians, and writers engaged in eclectic and lively discussions. This was a brilliant education for Maud and Eva, who joined in conversations about women's suffrage, child welfare, and prison reform.
In 1885, the family moved to New York City. While both sisters were strong supporters of women's suffrage, Maud was also a member of the New York Anti-Vivisection Society led by Diana Belais, which was formed in response to the cruel treatment of animals, such as horses being surgically operated on while still awake. When a falling-out arose in this society, Maud and her Aunt Sue Farrell broke away and founded the Vivisection Investigation League. This organization's broadened scope included exposing questionable experiments on adults and children in several hospitals, including the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.
In November 1910, Maud served as a poll watcher as part of a contingent of 50 activists from the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women. In May 1911, Maud Ingersoll joined a group of women who traveled to Albany, some of whom testified in favor of woman suffrage before a committee of the State Legislature. In September Maud attended a suffrage meeting at Cooper Union in New York City.
On December 30, 1912, Maud married Wallace McLean Probasco, nephew of Supreme Court Justice John McLean. Wallace was the General Manager of the New Century Color Plate Company. The couple lived in New York City at first with Maud's family, and both Maud and her husband were active in philanthropic work.
That same year, she was also a delegate to the New York State Convention of the National Progressive (Bull Moose) Party in Syracuse, New York, in support of the party's platform of major reforms including women's suffrage and social welfare assistance for women and children.
In 1913, Maud was Treasurer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a member of the delegation from the Women's Political Union, and despite women having been previously arrested for election poll watching, she went ahead and represented the Union to watch the polls in Albany in anticipation of an early suffrage amendment.
After nearly fifteen years of marriage, Wallace became involved in an affair with Mrs. Mazie Ingersoll (no relation) for several years. When Wallace told Mazie that he was breaking up with her, she shot him three times and then shot and killed herself. Wallace recovered from his wounds and was acquitted on suspicion of homicide in connection with the death, and Maud eventually reconciled with him.
Despite her active life in support of ending cruelty to animals, investigation of patient experimentations, and her drive to achieve the vote for women, the limited information about Maud may be the result of the overshadowing by her father's brilliant career and her husband's scandal. However, her work on the edges of the suffrage movement is as important and represents the thousands of lesser known women who toiled and fought for the vote for all U.S. women, fin ally achieved in 1920.
A portrait of Maud and Eva, painted by C.A. Wittemore, can be found in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois
"Freethinker in Bronze." Time Magazine, April 2, 1934, p. 11.
Gustafson, Melanie Susan. Women and the Republican Party, 1854-1924. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2001.
Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage (1900-1920), Vol. VI. J.J. Little & Ives, New York, 1922. [LINK]
Kittredge, Herman E. Ingersoll, a Biographical Appreciation. Dresden Publishing, New York, 1911.
Larson, Orvin. American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll, a Biography. Citadel Press, 1962.
Lederer, Susan Eyrich. Hideyo Noguchi's Luetin Experiment and the Antivivisectionists. University of Chicago Press, 1985.
Lederer, Susan Eyrich. Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America Before the Second World War. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1995.
"Mrs. Maude I. Probasco" Obituary. Daily News, New York City, February 13, 1936, p. 93.
"Park Avenue Love Shooting." Daily News, New York City, December 20, 1926, p. 162.
"Principals in Agnostic Ceremony." Buffalo Enquirer, January 3, 1913, p. 3.
"Urge Slaughter House Reform." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, March 1, 1914, p. 14.
"Women Seek Right to Watch at Polls." The Sun, New York City, December 24, 1913, p. 5.
"Lawyers and Doctors Among 50 Assigned to Task To-day," New York Tribune, 8 November 1910, p. 5.
"Suffragists Off to Albany," New York Times, 9 May 1911, p. 11.
"Governors on Suffrage," New York Times, 9 Sept. 1911, p. 4.